In Arizona, we do not use the term “custody.” We instead use the terms “legal decision-making” and “parenting time.” These two aspects of a parenting plan comprise what is traditionally considered custody in other states. In determining parenting time and legal decision-making in the child(ren)’s best interests, the court refers to what is known as the Best Interest Factors.
Parenting time is the time the parent spends with the child. Each parent during their scheduled parenting time is responsible for providing the child with food, clothing and shelter and may make routine decisions concerning the child’s care. A.R.S. § 25-401(5).
There are at least 14 published Model Parenting Time Plans to assist parents and the Courts in establishing age-related parenting time schedules. It is important to remember; however, these guidelines are meant to provide a starting point and are not necessarily applicable in all family situations or for all child(ren). Many parenting plans may need to be adjusted depending on the needs of the child and the specific facts related to a particular case. If the parents cannot agree, the Court decides parenting time on a case by case basis based upon the best interests of the child.
Arizona Courts strive to ensure both parents have equal access to their children by encouraging parties’ to either agree on an equal parenting time plan or enter orders that reflect an equal parenting time. Equal parenting plans are not required, however. Many parents enter into parenting plan whereby one parent is designated as the primary residential parent. This means that one parent has more parenting time than the other parent.
Note: It’s important to note joint legal decision-making does not necessarily mean equal parenting time and vice versa. A parent can be awarded joint legal decision-making with a non-equal parenting time plan.
Equal Parenting Time: Equal parenting time means that the physical residence of the child is shared by both parents almost equally. Equal parenting time (approximately 50/50) works best if parents live relatively near to each other. It lessens the stress on children and allows them to maintain a somewhat normal routine. For this reason, Courts prefer an equal parenting time plan if both parents are fit, and it is logistically possible for them to operate under an equal parenting time plan.
Primary Residential Parent: When parenting time is not equal, the primary residential parent is the parent with whom the child primarily resides. Generally, one parent becomes the primary residential parent if one of the following situations occurs:
- The parents do not live close enough to each other to make an equal parenting time plan feasible;
- One of the parents is unfit;
- The child has a special need that requires one parent to be his or her primary caregiver; or
- The parents agreed to an unequal parenting time plan.
Pros and Cons of Equal Parenting Time
|Children have time to bond with both their mother and father.
|If the parents live far apart from each other (i.e., more than 20 minutes), equal parenting time may not be logistically possible.|
|Children have continuing contact and involvement with both parents.
|If a parent has fitness concerns regarding the other parent, equal parenting time may not be in the children’s best interests.|
|With newborn and younger children, it may be inappropriate to have lengthy periods of parenting time. Shorter, more frequent visits may be appropriate.|